Having Fun Sharing His Passions: Pat Farenga's Interview

Before I even contacted today's interviewee, I was jealous of him. But now that I have his answers to the questions I'm even more jealous.

Let me explain. See, by far, the one person who had the most influence on my family's homeschooling adventure was education reformer John Holt. Holt is someone I really wish I could have met in person.

Pat Farenga knew Holt quite well and worked with him for years at Holt Associates. So you can see why I'm jealous.

And then, he returns his answers and I see that he spent time "hanging out" in English pubs with John Taylor Gatto. Holy Moly, can you imagine how interesting that must have been?

(You can learn all about Pat's past and current work in the realm of home education at his website, patfarenga.com .)

Pat and his wife Day homeschooled three children and have shared several fascinating stories in this interview. You are really not going to believe the crazy story he has to tell about a family visit to the Guggenheim Museum in New York...

How long have you been homeschooling (or if finished, how long did you homeschool)?

We homeschooled our three girls over a period of 20 years; I have been homeschooling for 30 years since I started work with John Holt and Growing Without Schooling as a single man in 1981.

One of the main benefits of homeschooling is the freedom and flexibility it allows. Can you give us a few examples of how this freedom and flexibility benefited you (your family)?

Traveling is one thing we really benefited from. We often took our three girls with us when I spoke at homeschooling conferences in the U.S. We took advantage of the off-season rates for Disney and other family travel destinations that homeschooling grants you, though we never viewed our trips as "educational ventures" or education time that was lost and must be made up when we got home. We simply enjoyed our time traveling, exploring, and meeting new people and let the learning take care of itself.

We had a great time in England in 1999; I worked at a conference in London and hung out with John Taylor Gatto in local pubs afterwards, while my family toured the city. We then took extra time off to visit my wife's family, which is from Cornwall.

We also stayed with a homeschooling family in Bath, who we contacted through the Growing Without Schooling travel directory and who we had never met before, and became fast friends with them. We are still in touch with them.

Another time I was asked to fill in for Ivan Illich, at a conference in Rome, Italy. Since the organizers were paying for a large hotel room for me, I was able to bring my oldest daughter and my father, who speaks Italian. While I worked at the conference, held in a gorgeous 15th century palazzo that was converted into a hotel, my Dad and daughter toured Rome. I didn't see as much of Rome as I wanted (it was a very intense and structured conference) but Lauren and my Dad had a great time and bonded even more.

As adults, our daughters still love to travel, on their own and with company.

Another benefit of homeschooling is the fun factor. Can you give us a few examples of some especially fun times you had as a result of homeschooling?

Personally, some of the most fun I had as a homeschooling dad was when I shared my passions with others. For instance, our youngest, Audrey, developed an interest in magic and sleight of hand, a longtime hobby of mine. She wanted to meet others who were interested in it too, so we started the Stage and Parlor Magic Club in our house.

Over the course of three years we had anywhere from ten to twenty homeschoolers, of all ages, come over for a three-hour session of learning, building, and performing magic tricks and illusions with us. We performed at homeschooling fairs and at a nursing home, as well as for friends and family. I don't think any kid who came had more fun than I did!

We all have funny experiences while homeschooling. Can you share one of yours with us?

I grew up in the Bronx, and one of my summer jobs in college was working as a doorman in a building on 86th Street, not far from the Guggenheim Museum. Sometimes I'd visit the museum before or after work, depending on my work schedule, so I was familiar with its programming.

Years later, when we were taking the family to my parent's house in NY for Thanksgiving, we spent a day touring Manhattan. Day, my wife, really wanted to visit the Guggenheim, but our children were 6, 9, and 13 then and, knowing how avant-garde the Guggenheim could be, I questioned if it was appropriate for our family. Nonetheless, we went.

As soon as we ascended the spiral ramp into the exhibits we were greeted with some pretty extreme videos and images. One was a video loop of a young girl in her underwear, being slapped by her mother and having clothes thrown at her. Many photos throughout the museum featured men and women in bondage-type clothes and homoerotic poses. Another video showed an older woman and a younger one, in close up, endlessly eating strawberries while staring at each other blankly.

We sat down to discuss an exit plan. Next to us was a young mother breastfeeding a very young child, perhaps a year old or younger. While we were talking about whether to continue through the museum, a security guard walked up to the young mother and told her she couldn't breastfeed in public at the museum!

We couldn't believe it, and my wife told the guard how stupid the policy was, especially considering how many bare breasts were on display on the walls. But the guard persisted, on the grounds that breastfeeding made some visitors uncomfortable (!), so the breastfeeding mom left, as did we.

When we arrived on the sidewalk outside I asked the girls what they thought of the Guggenheim museum. Audrey, our youngest, immediately pronounced, "It was the three A's: absurd, abnormal, and obscene!" We laughed all day with her about that.

1 comment:

Jay Wile said...

Thanks for the interesting interview. The part about breastfeeding made me uncomfortable, though. I wasn't uncomfortable about the breastfeeding, of course, I was uncomfortable with the museum's attitude towards it.